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The opportunities you can miss for some great teaching and learning if you’re too well-prepared. I could have just done, as on the scheme of work, Cutting Edge pages 126 to 129…

Holocaust Memorial Day

Holocaust Memorial Day, today Thursday 27th January 2011, gives us the opportunity to recognise, not just this horrible event in our world’s history, but the atrocities before and since then (some that are still going on to this day). That anyone can deny this particular series of events is beyond me, not to mention how it was left unstopped for so long… But that is really food for thought on a more political blog, as I’d like to share how I got a little bit inspired today.

First of all, at a routine meeting I noticed some interesting things stuck up on the wall. They had be put there by a colleague at the college where I work: different testimonies given by people who had been affected by atrocities in different places. Everywhere, the blazon HMD. A little bit of investigation, and asking my colleague about them, an answer: Holocaust Memorial Day. Suddenly an idea for this morning’s lesson sparked in my head. A quick bit of Googling later, I had my source:

I had a quick look round at college (this was about 5pm yesterday), checked out some of the education resources on the site and then left for home.

I got home to read a really interesting and insightful post by Mark Andrews on exactly this topic (including a really rather distasteful t-shirt). The spark had become a small flame.

I now really wanted to see how I could introduce the events commemorated on HMD and the related issues in a sensitive way. To do this, I took a number of elements from the HMD Trust produced resources and tried to weave them together in a way that made sense for the language classroom. Here’s a little bit of how I went about it.

First I took this image of an empty book from the HMD campaign resources, and displayed it using an overhead projector linked to the class PC. As the students arrived, I asked them to look at the picture and think about how it made them feel. They also made comments about what it reminded them of. Some said that it made them feel empty (as empty as the book), others thought it looked like a bible. I asked what they would do with a book like this: draw in it, fill it with writing.

Next, I showed the students a map of part of the world. We checked they understood North, South, East and West. Then I asked them what they knew about 5 different places: Germany, Cambodia, Rwanda, Bosnia and Darfur.

Checking their general knowledge about these places what quite easy (especially when looking at the geography of the places). We clicked into Google Maps and saw the relative sizes of these places, the borders they shared with other countries, their position in relation to the UK. By this point, they had already brought up the current situation in Darfur. However, we didn’t look too much into the issues going on there (I need to research and learn about these places and the contexts more myself, so didn’t feel comfortable talking too much about them in the class at this point). I felt I could tackle certain aspects looking at the Holocaust itself, though.

(Those in the top-right picture are waiting to be taken to Auschwitz – the biggest and most well-known of the concentration camps; the man in the bottom-left picture is a Holocaust survivor)

I had downloaded a few podcasts of eye-witness accounts of people affected during the Holocaust, of being taken in trains and wagons from the bank that the HMDT have on iTunes (just search for Holocaust Memorial Day Trust in the store, or click here for the web page), but what also interested me was an extract from the book ‘The Book Thief’ by Markus Zusak. I read this myself a couple of years ago and highly recommend it to you. It’s in the same vein as ‘The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas’, which although I haven’t read, I have seen the film version. Both works take a fable-ised approach to tackling this tricky subject and those who were affected by it.

I gave half the class (4 of 8 in total) a copy of the book extract and set them away with dictionaries; the other half I gave copies of two of the eye-witness accounts with the same dictionary brief. I then set some questions for each groups to guide their discussion. Students from each group were then paired up with each other to talk about what they had read.

I asked the students if they knew any stories about the Holocaust. We elicited the film version of ‘The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas’, which I had also seen myself; ‘Schindler’s List’ (which I haven’t seen yet); ‘Escape from Sobibor’, which I saw while studying History for GCSE; and the book ‘The Book Thief’. I flicked back to the image of the unwritten book used at the start of the lesson, while we discussed which of these stories were fact and which were fiction. I told the students the theme of HMD this year was Untold Stories and encouraged them to look at these films and books themselves.

A final piece of the jigsaw that didn’t end up fitting was the podcast of one of the eye-witness accounts, which I hadn’t properly checked, and didn’t match up to those I had printed out for the students. My plan for next week is to look at the quote by Niemoller (the last slide in the presentation below), hand out a copy of the book extract for each student and carry on the discussion on Monday.

A copy of this is also available on Google docs here (sharing and editing privileges granted).

Related links

Animation of Anne Frank, the graphic biography on YouTube (via Anne Hodgson)